Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson noted at halftime that the Mountaineers, getting beat up the middle, needed to stretch the plays out, and begin spilling some of the run toward the outside. That happened to an extent, but whichever way West Virginia stacked its defense, No. 4 Oklahoma had an answer the other way in amassing 510 yards – including 180 on the ground after the break when it was tied 24-24. The Sooners outscored WVU 14-3 in the third, then slowed the West Virginia offense enough in the last 15 minutes to secure a win.
It was, in a nutshell, the single biggest reason for the loss. Bigger than losing the turnover battle, bigger than Oklahoma’s excellent pass rush, bigger than a major special teams mistake. Behind among the better fronts in the game, and with starter Keith Ford out with a foot fracture, reserve back Samaje Perine rushed for a career-high 242 yards and four touchdowns on a whopping 34 carries. The freshman, a 5-11, 242-pounder, showcased an excellent blend of power, speed and, especially late, stamina.
On the final few drives, Perine continually gash the tiring West Virginia odd front, exploiting running lanes in the box and slashing into the second level for solid gains. In the fourth quarter, OU (4-0) ran Perine on 12 of its 14 plays, the lone exceptions a Trevor Knight pass on third and 20 and the final kneeldown to end the contest. The gains were incredible against a wilting unit; Perine had rushes of 21, 19, 12, 9 and 8 yards in his dozen carries. In the end, it amounted to 7.1 yards per carry, the most the Mountaineers have allowed to a leading back this season, including Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon.
“They blocked well,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “They played with more effort than we did in the second half. They made good adjustments at halftime. They came out and made a bunch of plays in the second half when the game was on the line. … They are at a point in the program where they get two or three guys that go down at a position and they’ve got guys that can win and play at a very high level.”
The knockout blow was, of course, Perine’s 19-yarder to push OU’s lead to an insurmountable 45-27 with 4:30 left. But West Virginia (2-2) was on the canvas multiple times before that because of a combination of mistakes, less-than-adequate execution and the culmination of blows from a superior foe. In short, there were simply too many mistakes against to defeat a top five squad, a sort of laundry list and all of it dingy.
There was the kickoff return for touchdown, the multiple personal fouls in the critical situations about which the coaching staff speaks, the forcing by Clint Trickett of the late ball downfield to Jordan Thompson that resulted in a jump ball interception against a much taller defender. There was Trickett’s fumble, a lack of protection on the left side of the line, the continual second-and-long situations that put the offense behind the chains against an excellent rush. Truth told, West Virginia is a sold football team, well above average and arguably the best 2-2 team in the nation. But it cannot defeat a marquee foe when all those miscues are compiled.
“We had opportunities,” Gibson said. “They wore us down. We tried to throw a bunch of different stuff at it, and we just couldn’t stop it. The first guy was falling off and we lost contain a couple times. They were throwing the ball the first seven times on first down, and we adjust and try to help with cover two and then they run it. It was a chess match. I’m disappointed in how we played, but in no way and I thinking this is the end of the world. We are 2-2 and we have lost to two top five football teams.”
Among the biggest of errors came when, with just 1:45 left in the third quarter and West Virginia staggered but hanging in, Noble Nwachukwu was called for a personal foul. The defensive end, flagged for grabbing the back of the helmet and removing it, essentially gave Oklahoma a first and goal at the nine-yard line. Two plays later, the Sooners punched in for a 38-27 lead with 16 minutes to play. That was the beginning of the end for any upset hopes, and they were further dashed a series later when Trickett fumbled during a sack attempt.
West Virginia never scored another meaningful touchdown, going quietly on its very next series when it was stopped on fourth and five from Oklahoma’s 35-yard line. Holgorsen chose not to try a 52-yard field goal, even with placekicker Josh Lambert having made a 54-yarder earlier in the game. The three points would have pulled the Mountaineers within a single score at 38-30 with 8:51 remaining.
“I’m proud of our players,” said OU head coach Bob Stoops, who became the first coach in Big 12 history to record 100 conference wins. “They played through adversity and persevered. We fought our way to tying it at halftime and then took the lead in the second half when we needed to. Samaje was just outstanding. You know about how powerful and strong he is, but he has great vision. He had a sensational night.”